Saturday, November 17, 2018

Jacarandas, succulents and a selfie: Sepulveda Garden Center

The smoke from the hellish Case Fire in Paradise, about 90 miles north of here, has been making our air hard to breathe all week. But that's a minor annoyance compared to what those in the middle of it are going through. The flames got to within a few hundred yards of my brother-in-law's property outside of Chico, but fortunately they were spared. So many haven't been. The loss of life in Paradise has stunned Northern California and, with many hundreds still left unaccounted for, will only go up. The destruction of virtually an entire town is simply unfathomable. My thoughts continue to be with the thousands of people affected by this catastrophic wildfire.


To counteract all the ugliness, I want to show you some beauty I found in Southern California in early June. We spent the first night of our trip in in Sherman Oaks, and as I was futzing around on Facebook, I noticed that the Los Angeles Cactus and Succulent Society was going to have its 2018 Drought Tolerant Plant Festival the following day at a place called Sepulveda Garden Center in Encino. I'm not very familiar with the San Fernando Valley, and I had no idea where Encino was relative to our location. Imagine my surprise when Google Maps told me that the Sepulvedea Garden Center was less than two miles from our motel! What's better than the gift of serendipity?

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Creating a demonstration garden for the Sacramento C&SS

The Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society (SCSS) meets every 4th Monday of the month at the Shepard Garden and Arts Center (SGA&C) on McKinley Boulevard. The two are almost the same age: The SCSS was founded in 1960, and the SGA&C was built in 1958 by the City of Sacramento. If you want to see what it looks like, check out this photo gallery.

According to its website, the SGA&C is "an outstanding example of mid-twentieth century architecture:"
Most notable of its exterior features is the dramatic roof line that combines an A-line form with that of a "butterfly" style appendage that extends over the patio. This in dramatic contrast to its surrounding neighbors which are noted for the popular styles of architecture from the 1920s, 30s and 40s. The Center, as was common in the late 1950s, utilizes stone and wood with flair and exuberance. One of its more notable features on the interior is the massive two-sided fireplace made of flagstone and terrazzo, with a glass mosaic on one side and a huge copper vent on the other. The broad hearth serves as seating, making this feature the heart of the building. 
The "broad hearth," incidentally, is usually the place where I sit during presentations.

As one of the plant clubs meeting at the SGA&C, the Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society was recently asked to participate in a re-beautification project: Each club is given an area outside the Center to create a demonstration garden that reflects the club's interests. Here is our area:


Last Saturday, SCSS volunteers met to get started on our demonstration garden. 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Succulents and More expanding north—and bamboo-in-law update

A trunk full of plants always makes my heart beat faster. Especially if it's our car filled with plants!


These plants, however, weren't for our own garden. Instead, they went on a 3½ hour car ride into the mountains, bound for what I jokingly call our northern garden expansion, a.k.a. my mother-in-law's 2+ acre property in Mount Shasta.

Of the 2+ acres, no more than ½ acre is landscaped. The rest are native trees, mostly Western redcedar (Thuja plicata). In other words, there's lots of room to broaden the plant palette!

Friday, November 9, 2018

Barrie Coates' tranquil Green Valley garden, complete with bonsai

The third garden I visited a few Sundays ago with the California Horticultural Society (CalHort) is located in Green Valley outside of Fairfield, about 35 minutes west of here. Climatically speaking, Green Valley is in between San Francisco Bay with its mild winters and summers and the Sacramento Valley with its somewhat colder winters and blazing-hot summers. It's not quite Goldilocks country, but almost (and certainly closer than we are)

The garden we toured belongs to Carol and Barrie Coate. Now retired, Barrie has been a leading figure in California horticultural circles for decades: as a consulting arborist, director of the Saratoga Horticultural Research Foundation (now part of UC Davis), arboricultural consultant to the Getty Center, and author of numerous articles and books.

Barrie and his wife Carol moved to Green Valley in 2014. They inherited a number of mature trees and shrubs but have added everything else you see in the photos below. The soil in their area can only be described as a gardener's dream: 20 ft. deep class-1 soil with consistent water at 6 inches. Barrie said he's now able to grow finnicky plants that he was never able to grow before.

50-year old mayten tree (Maytenus boaria)

Friday, November 2, 2018

East Bay Wilds native plant nursery: nothing ordinary about it

I'd heard whispers of East Bay Wilds for a while:
► “I think it's in Berkeley. Maybe Oakland. Somewhere over there.”
►“Never been there myself, but I've heard it's great.”
► “It's hardly ever open, but it has stuff you can't find anywhere else.”
► “You have to go. They have all kinds of stuff, not just plants.”

I love nothing more than a challenge so to the Interwebs I went. It turns out that East Bay Wilds is a small nursery in Oakland that specializes in California natives. It's the brainchild of Pete Veilleux, a plantsman and garden designer who maximizes the use of natives in his residential and commercial work. You can read more about the history of East Bay Wilds on their website.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

More beauties from Troy McGregor's garden

I already showed you the first East Bay garden I visited with the California Horticultural Society (CalHort) a few weekends ago: Ellen Frank's “tropical dry climate fusion” garden. The second was Troy McGregor's, also in Martinez.

As you maybe remember, Troy used to be the nursery manager of the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek. In that position, he put the nursery on the map as one the leading plant destinations in Northern California for dry-climate plants, especially succulents and Australian and South African natives. Troy now runs his own business, Gondwana Flora, specializing in regionally appropriate landscaping.

I wrote about Troy's personal garden in April and again in September. In this post I'm trying to focus on areas I didn't fully cover before. But this mound in the backyard is so wonderful, it's worth another photo:

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Ellen Frank's “tropical dry climate fusion” garden

Last Sunday I joined the California Horticultural Society (CalHort) on a tour of three gardens in the East Bay. One of them was the garden of Ellen Frank, a former president of CalHort. In her own words:
I’ve been in my house almost eleven years and working piecemeal to its present state. It originally had Pfizer junipers all in the front with a narrow race track path around the house.  Inside the courtyard (front yard/backyard) was a lawn next to the racetrack path with a straight wood retaining wall keeping my uphill neighbor’s yard from spilling into my space.  
Troy McGregor [whose garden was also on the tour] gave me a consultation early on. [...] 
My lot is small, something in the neighborhood of 5,000 square feet. Today the garden is a mish-mash of plants, but mainly a tropical dry climate fusion (kind of an oxymoron and that is why I have such a problem watering). You can’t confine a plant person to one type of plant, and I’ve gone through my phases of plant collecting, but at the moment, I have succulents, bromeliads, a little collection of begonias (mainly taking over the kitchen), and my dry collection by the street with South African bulbs and some California natives.
Ellen's words struck a chord with me, seeing how I also combine plants from a variety of geographical and climatic areas. “Fusion” may not seem like a big word, but it's become an important concept for me. That's why I'm always eager to see what kinds of plants other gardeners choose to combine, and how they do it.

Front garden. The driveway is on the right. The opening/passageway you see in the 2 o'clock position leads to the back garden.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Fall plant sale at UC Santa Cruz Arboretum

The plant sale at Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Tilden Park on October 6 was all about California natives (see this post). In contrast, the UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) Arboretum sale on October 13 combined California natives (offered by the Santa Cruz chapter of the California Native Plant Society) with plants propagated from the Arboretum collection, mostly Australian and South African natives.

California Native Plant Society area at the UCSC Arboretum fall sale

I had never been to a UCSC sale before, but considering the plant list was full of weird and wonderful varieties, I expected quite a crowd. And I was right. By the time the gate opened to members at 10:00, there was a long line of people waiting to get in. I had arrived 25 minutes early and I was in a great spot.

The closer we got to 10:00, the more the anticipation (and impatience) was building. Arboretum director Martin Quigley explained the rules—carts or boxes to be dropped off in the holding area; none allowed in the plant area because of the narrow aisles and the large number of people—and then it was off to the races. It was a scene not unlike the start of the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889, minus the horses and guns. People were actually running!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

California native plant sale at Tilden Park in Berkeley

This fall, plants sales have been happening at a frantic pace. Or maybe I'm just noticing it more because I've been going to more of them than I usually do.

In any case, you'd think I wouldn't need more plants, especially after my Portland haul. But I got those additions into the ground very quickly and I cleared more space elsewhere by removing dead, dying, and/or underperforming plants. And since gaps must be filled lest there be a disturbance in the force, I simply had to continue shopping. Just like Sarah Winchester had to continue adding on to the Winchester Mystery House in order to the appease the spirits that were haunting her.


Above is one of the many rolling hills you see as you drive to the Bay Area from Davis on Interstate 80. In late winter and early spring they are often a vibrant green. In the summer they turn golden brown (some claim California's nickname, The Golden State, was inspired by these hills). I love those hills, and they're never more beautiful than when there are puffy white clouds in a deep blue sky.

As you can see, going to plant sales has other benefits, too!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Return to the Danger Garden: back garden in September 2018 (part 2)

Danger Garden back (part 1)

If you think of the Danger Garden as a symphony, the front garden is the first movement, the front half of the back garden the second, and the rear is the third movement with its rousing finale.

Looking back to what I showed you in my previous post:


Even though it's not huge, the chartreuse Circle Pot from Potted is like a beacon: You can see it from just about anywhere in the back garden.